Expelled Cadet Awaits Pentagon Ruling

Andrea Prasse
Pleased as she is to be joining her local volunteer fire department near Milwaukee, this is not the uniform Andrea Prasse had in mind, nor the training.

"I expected to be in a plane, not on a ladder," says Prasse.

Four months ago, she was an Air Force Academy Cadet. She was on the dean's list in aeronautical engineering and her dream of flying jets was nearing her grasp. Then, just eight days before graduation, Prasse's dreams crashed and burned.

"Until the very day of graduation, I still thought that they were going to come and say, 'we made a mistake, you are going to graduate,'" she says. "But they never did."

Prasse had been found guilty of violating the academy's honor code. The recommended penalty was expulsion.

She was accused of lying.

Her mother showed us the engine design project Prasse was assigned. Her professor said students could copy the shell from other's work. Only certain components had to be original. When a fellow cadet said she cheated, she wasn't concerned. The accusation focused on a part students were allowed to copy.

At her hearing, her professor was clear: "I do not suspect Andrea to be guilty of lying or cheating."

"I didn't lie or cheat. My teacher says I didn't lie or cheat. My group members say I didn't lie or cheat," says Prasse. "And then this one cadet says that I did, and they find me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

The one cadet was a former friend, Matthew Rabe. He'd wanted more from the relationship, Prasse says. She did not.

Does she think his motivation had anything to do with feeling rejected by her?

"I think that was part of it, if not all of it," says Prasse.

The chain of command at the Air Force Academy would not comment specifically about the Prasse case, due to an ongoing investigation by the Pentagon. But they did agree to speak generally about the honor system, in which the accused appears before the board without a lawyer and can't appeal the ruling. The system, officers say, has never produced a wrongful conviction.

"I am convinced there are not any innocent cadets that are convicted," says Col. Mark Hyatt, director of the academy's character development center.

The honor code is literally written in stone at the academy, administered by cadets who sit in judgement of their peers. Rabe was in the pool of 72 cadets who regularly hear honor cases, though not hers.

When asked if it's possible that the system can be used to settle personal grudges, Hyatt says, "the system we have here is set up so things like that don't happen."

While she can't appeal the verdict, she is hoping the Pentagon will rule she's allowed to graduate and serve.

Prasse says she wants to be optimistic, "but so far I have no reason to be."

Through her tears, Prasse still sees a future as a fighter pilot. But for now, a fire truck ladder is as high into the sky as she is allowed to climb.